Monday, 24 January 2011

COUES, Elliott 1842-1899

What’s in a name, you might ask. Well quite a lot once you start to dig is the answer. We have heard lots about Coues’ Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni exilipes of late, and even I’ve watched at least two of them this year, but how many birders have asked themselves where the name Coues originates from? Well OK, I’m sure some know the answer, but I’m equally sure that many won’t have given it a seconds thought.

Elliott Coues (I believe pronounced cows in the anglicised version), was one of Americas’ great ornithologists and one of the founder members of the A.O.U. He is remembered in the names of mammals as well as three birds, Coues’ Flycatcher Cantopus pertinax. Coues’ Gadwall Anas strepera couesi (extinct) and of course Coues’ Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni exilipes.

Coues was a medical man by profession and saw service in the American Civil War. He later served in the area of Arizona and faced the Apache. During service in Western North America he formed a large collection of birds and mammals, some new to science at the time. One of the birds new to science was Grace’s Warbler Dendroica gracie which was discovered in the Rocky Mountains and later described by Spencer Fullerton Baird and named after Coues’ sister Grace Darling Coues.

A prolific writer of ornithological works, Coues had over fifty publications in one particular year! Some of the better known works are Key to North American Birds (1872), Check List of North American Birds (1873), Birds of the Northwest (1875) and Birds of the Colorado Valley (1878).

Coues was known for his very strong views concerning ornithological matters. Where have I heard that before? He would have gone down well or maybe not, on some birding forums I know. :-)

You might like to look up Jens Wilken Hornemann too! I am wondering if Hornemann and Coues were linked in anyway apart from their share in the name of the Arctic Redpoll. Obviously not in a personal manner, because Hornemann died the year before Coues was born.

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